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Charlotte Area

Sinkholes Plague South Charlotte

People who live and work in the SouthPark area may be feeling a bit cursed right now with yet another major water main break closing down a thoroughfare that sees an average of 26,000 vehicles a day. A sinkhole and water-main break shut down Runnymede Lane for most of June. A similar situation has Park Road closed near Tyvola Road for at least the next week and a half. The two incidents are related. Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities Director Barry Gullet says June's sinkhole on Runnymede Lane and the one now on Park Road just a few miles away are no coincidence. "The pipe material is the same and it's the same era of pipe," says Gullet. Drinking water is delivered throughout Charlotte in a spider web of pipes ranging from just a few inches around to more than 40 inches. They're made of lots of different materials, installed in pieces over many decades. Now Gullet says the city is realizing it has a problem with a 6 mile stretch of 24-inch pipe installed in the 60s and 70s to serve the growing SouthPark neighborhood. Twice in three months the pipe has had a catastrophic failure. "What we're seeing is that this entire section of pipeline is probably reaching the end of its service life," says Gullet. "So we need to be looking at how to either rehabilitate it or replace it or decommission it." Gullet says there's no way to know when that time is approaching for a pipe until failures happen, like the one that opened a gaping hole in Park Road on Friday night: "The water main blew out catastrophically and when it did, just the force of all that water coming out of the pipe, washed the dirt away," says Gullet. A section of the road collapsed. It, along with a large surrounding portion of Park Road, will have to be rebuilt because of water damage. Gullet says the city's largest water pipes all run under roads because they're easier to access and protect that way. Park Road near Tyvola is not expected to reopen until at least September 10. Water pipe-induced sinkholes are not a problem unique to Charlotte: they're common in urban areas. Just during the last month they've happened in Detroit; Chicago; Manhattan; Staten Island; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Minot, North Dakota; Burnsville, Minnesota; and Sioux City, Iowa. Some were large enough to swallow an SUV.